Tuesday, October 18, 2011

decisions, decisions

When I was 16, the most important thing about graduating high school was that I would move out of my parents' house. It was assumed I would go to college, and I did. It was assumed I would live in the dorms, and I did. It wasn't until after these decisions were made that I realized I even had options, so today I want to talk about the many different options you have for living arrangements outside of your parents' house.

Your options will depend on what you plan to do. If you're going to college, dorms have typically been the first choice, but aren't always best and usually cost more. If you're going to work, you'll need to save a pretty hefty chunk of change before you can move out on your own. It may be that your housing is already set up for you and you don't even have to worry about it, but it's always good to explore your options.

If you go to college, you will be expected to do a number of things on your own for the first time. Living in a dorm can help cut down on your responsibility and saves you from having to buy furniture and fixtures. It usually comes with some kind of meal plan, which is helpful when you're cramming for mid-terms and have zero free time to do things like buy food, shower, and sleep. It's a great way to meet new people, sure, but  sharing a bathroom doesn't always bring out the best in people.
You might have extra rules like a curfew or no unaccompanied members of the opposite sex.

Your home is your castle, make it easy to do what you love. This comes pretty naturally - if you like to be outside, you'll look for a place with a yard, if you like to cook, you'll search for a nice kitchen. Don't fall prey to the extras, the "amenities," like a pool or a workout room. Unless you're already swimming and working out enough to warrant these things, it will just end up being a huge expense.
Speaking of expenses...apartments will often include utilities (water, electricity, and gas) in the monthly rent. This is abbreviated ABP for all bills paid. This can be extremely helpful - your bill never changes - but first find out how much they charge. When I lived alone, my electricity bill was usually around $75 (though it tips $100 in the summer), gas would be around $40, and water generally around $30 (although last month it was $70...still trying to figure that one out!). If they are charging much more than this, move on.
If you're in a bigger city, you'll probably be able to get free apartment locating. This is a great service, especially if you don't know the town. They drive you around to all sorts of different spots, and they don't get paid until you pick one. This is a much better option than CraigsList.

In all the housing I've had, duplexes are my favorite. You have a yard and a front door, neighbors are friendlier, you have a bit of privacy, and you can really make it a home. The downside? They are twice as expensive as apartments. You pretty much have to get a roommate and that is never an easy task.

Tips for Finding a Roommate:
1. Never live with your best friend. Trust me, you're similarities will drive each other crazy.
2. It's good to live with someone who has known you for a few years. Even if you're just acquaintances or old classmates, this is better than a total stranger.
3. Living with a member of the opposite sex is actually a lot easier than parents may make it seem. (Just choose someone you aren't attracted to.)
4. Craigslist is a terrible plan 99% of the time. If you DO decide to go this route, be extremely picky. Pickier than you've ever been. You will see the worst side of humanity while meeting these candidates. Prepare yourself.

If you're moving to a college town, you may be able to convince your parents to buy a house there. Seem outrageous? Hear me out... If they buy a house, you can live there, paying rent every month of course. Having this tie will help them feel more connected to you. And when you mail them the rent, you can send it in a little greeting card or with a note about something that happened to you recently. Trust me, moms LOVE this. After you graduate or move out, you can help find new tenants and your parents can go on making money off this investment for as long as the school is open.
Before you talk to your parents about it, research prices for housing in the area. Just do a Google search for real estate in that city, collect information about a few houses near campus, and prepare the numbers before you go to your parents. (Don't show them anything above $200,000).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

cleanliness vs. godliness

I promise I won't go all Mary Poppins on you, but I do want to talk about cleaning. It is so simple, it can save you from depression and disease not to mention roaches and rats. I know you think you hate it, but if you do it right, it is quick, easy to keep up, and rarely gross. Just like with anything you do, you have to make it your own. When I clean, I put on comfy clothes, make a pot of coffee, open every door and window if it's nice out, and jam Girl Talk's album Feed the Animals. Not only is it a free album, it's like a medley of every song you've ever loved or hated that changes every 20 seconds or so. This ADD rock is perfect for cleaning day.

1 sponge
1 scrub brush (about 3-5 inches long)
1 bucket or basin that fits in your sink
soap (just one 16oz bottle of Dr. Bronner's classic all-in-one soaps will last you a year. i like the tea tree oil.)
1 can Comet and a toilet brush
1 gallon white vinegar
1 box baking soda
1 spray bottle (you will fill this with your most essential cleaning tool - half vinegar, half water)
1 gallon of bleach (*only essential if you wear a lot of white or have porcelain sinks or tubs.)
1 mop
1 broom

This list of thirteen things - probably costing somewhere around $25 - includes everything you need to clean everything in your house. No, you don't need seven different kinds of soap or a washing machine or Swiffer Wet Jet. You just need a little time (one afternoon a week!) and maybe some elbow grease.

1. Invest in a solid dish rack with cup-holder prongs on the sides. This will save you from a world of cracked plates and chipped glasses. And make sure you get the tray to go underneath it! They aren't always packaged together at the store.
2. Get a sponge. Some people prefer the ones with the plastic handle so they don't have to actually touch the sponge, but they don't work as well and easily break. I prefer the yellow ones that fit in your palm. (If you don't want to touch dishwater, get some yellow rubber gloves for about $2.) Make sure you wring out your sponge with soapy water after each use to keep it clean and dry.
3. If you cook a lot, you'll probably need a metal scouring sponge (a.k.a. S.O.S. pads). These are great for getting old food off of pots and pans, but don't use them on non-stick pans or glass because it will scratch. Don't let them sit in water or they'll rust.
4. I know I said you can use one soap for everything, but I do like to splurge on dish soap. One $3 bottle can last 3-4 months. Maybe because it is what my mother always used, but I like Dawn. Go for the bare bones, don't be fooled by the pretty colors or claims that it will make your hands softer! Advertising is the art of making you think you can't live without something totally useless. Don't forget this is as true as it is in at the make up counter as it is in the cleaning supplies aisle.
5. Get a rhythm. I find the "classic blues" channel on Pandora is pretty great for late-night dishwashing. To me, it's a kind of meditation. It's a chance for me to escape when my roommates are around because, believe me, everyone will leave you alone when you're cleaning. (And if they don't, start asking them to help and they will!)
6. Soaking dishes is, except for in some rare cases, making yourself believe you are being productive when you aren't. I prefer rinsing to soaking. When I make a pot of Mac n Cheese, I empty the pot into a tupperwear, let the pot cool while I eat, and rinse it when I'm done. This accomplishes the same thing as soaking without having a sink full of nasty dishwater and without risking rusting any of your dishes or utensils.
7. And speaking of nasty dishwater, don't forget to clean out the sink when you're done. It's a good habit to get into to clean the places where you clean - sinks, tubs, basins, brushes, and rags should all be cleaned regularly and rinsed each time you use them. If you leave food in the drain catcher, this is like an invitation for every roach within half a mile to come feast in your drain. Just take five seconds to toss it in your closed-lid kitchen trash and avoid inestimable grossed-outness. 

1. Top to bottom. If you remember nothing else remember to clean top to bottom. For some reason people always want to start with sweeping the floor, but counters, stoves, and tables should be cleaned first.
2. For set in stains (cooked onto your stovetop burners, for example) cover with a layer of baking soda. Then spray it with your half vinegar, half water concoction and watch it sizzle like a science project! Depending on how set in the stain is, you may need to leave it for up to 3 minutes before you wipe it off with a rag. Since you're cleaning top to bottom, go ahead and toss any chunks onto the floor to sweep up later.

*If you hate the smell of vinegar, you can add some lemon juice into your half and half mix. The acidity in the citrus helps balance that acrid vinegar smell.

My least favorite chore growing up was dusting. I rarely do it now, but when I start sneezing and sniffing I know it's time to dust.
1. Two or three times a year, clean the ceiling fan; wipe down each blade using a wet paper towel that you can shake out onto the floor as necessary.
2. Wipe down anything you have on top of bookshelves or end tables, pick it up and swipe underneath it onto the floor with a moist rag. Make sure there is no sitting water left on any wood after you have dusted it.) I wipe down my furniture once every two months or so, although I should probably do it more.
3. Vinegar is good to clean wood because it dries quickly and will not hurt the integrity of wood in old homes, but it does not shine. A wood cleaner (like Murphy's Oil Soap) is fine to use on treated wood floors and furniture, smells better, and is still really cheap. I clean my wood floors with Murphy's about once every four months.


I sweep/vacuum the major traffic areas in my house 3 times a week. I have pets, so 3 times might be steep. You might only have to do it once a week, but you should get used to sweeping your entire house fairly often - especially by entrances.

My least favorite chore as an adult is mopping. I hate it and avoid it at all costs. That is why I prefer to spot clean. Honestly, I only mop the entire floor once every two or three months, the bathroom maybe once every six weeks. Do not get the classic rope mop. Those are gross. Get one that you can squeeze out with a handle.
1. Fill your basin halfway with hot water and soap. Take off your shoes because it's more fun that way!
2. Scrub the floors, starting with any problem spots.
3. Wring the mop out in the sink drain.
4. When you are done scrubbing the floors, wring the mop out several times in some fresh cold water.
5. Because I have roommates, I like to put a bunch of fans pointed at a freshly mopped floor. This not only helps it dry faster but lets the other people in the house know that I just mopped.

It always sucks to clean the bathroom. If you haven't thought about picking up some yellow gloves yet, this might be the time.
1. Cleaning a toilet is disgusting, but you should do it about once every two weeks. That might seem excessive but, believe me, the next time you're unexpectedly sick and have your head stuck down the toilet, you'll be glad you kept it clean.
2. Using your vinegar/water combination and some paper towels (I splurge on the disposable stuff when cleaning something that grosses me out this much) wipe down the seat, lid, and the outside of the bowl. 2. There are tons of toilet bowl cleaners out there, but all you really need is a toilet brush and some Comet. Sprinkle the Comet around the rim of the bowl.
3. Scrub it with the brush, making sure to get up in that crevasse you can't see and scrubbing all around and down into the drain.
4. Flush the toilet to rinse the brush.

Though the sink is pretty straight-forward, the tub can be a real beast to clean. It is much easier to try to keep it clean than to clean it. Some might call this a half-assed attempt, I call it efficient! For example, if dirt has settled around the drain in the tub as it often does in my house, when I shower I will scrub it a bit with my foot so it will loosen up and go down the drain. While I'm showering, I try to hose down anywhere that looks kind of gross. I have even kept a rag in there for that purpose. After I shower, I always close the shower curtain. If you leave a wet curtain open it will much more easily grow mold.
About twice a year (which is shamefully infrequent) or if I want to take a bath, I will bleach and scrub the tub.

Yes, you should clean your phone pretty regularly. Computer keyboard and TV screens, too. The best way to clean these is with rubbing alcohol or straight vinegar. These products dry quickly, which is vital to electronics. Do not use papertowels because it will leave behind a residue, instead use cotton balls, a soft rag or old t-shirt and, if necessary, a Q-Tip. You'll be surprised the gunk that comes out of the crevasses of your cell phone. I clean my phone about once a month, and I do a quick sweep with a cotton ball over my laptop twice a month. You should do a deep cleaning of your computer once every 6 months or so if you use it every day.

Cleaning your car is so easy, takes about 30 minutes, and is totally free. Living next to a construction site in the middle of the worst drought in history, I clean the outside of my car pretty regularly.
1. Grab your bucket or basin, a garden hose, and your Bronner's soap.
2. Rinse your car and fill up the bucket with about a gallon of water and tablespoon of soap.
3. With your rag or with a large sponge, (I like the Shammys I got at the Dollar Store for a buck - one to wash and one to dry)
4. Start by cleaning the windows so that you do not end up rubbing around dirt from the rest of the car onto the windows. Then rub down each side going top to bottom. Do this as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
5. Rinse the car (top to bottom).
6. Dry off with another shammy, again starting with windows and mirrors.

Other luxuries in adulthood include washing machines and dryers. You could lug your dirty clothes and sheets and underwear over to the laundromat for all the world to see, or you could learn how to hand-wash your laundry. (Ladies, the sooner you learn to hand wash, the better off you'll be when you start buying sexy lingerie!) You probably think I'm crazy. A year ago, I would have been right there with you, but it is so easy, it makes your clothes look and smell cleaner, and it's kind of fun. Now, I'm not totally nuts, I do take my towels and jeans to the laundromat, but my favorite clothes I wash by hand.

the set up:
2 buckets, basins, large bowls, whatever you have on hand. One goes in the sink, the other nearby.
liquid laundry detergent or Dr. B's soap, bleach if necessary, vinegar and baking soda.

the cleaning:
Divide your laundry into small loads. I start with delicates (ladies, you should NEVER put a bra in the dryer), then do whites, tank tops, nice shirts, and t-shirts.
Drop your first load in the basin and begin to fill it with water. Move the clothes around in the water until they are soaked. Pull the up and submerge them over and over to get the initial dirt out. For dirtier loads, you will want to change the water before you add the soap.
After you've added soap (about a tablespoon for one basin-full) and moved the clothes around in it a bit, jostle the stains and smells out of your clothes with a small soft brush or washboard. Treat each item individually. If something has no stains, you can simply lift and submerge several times then set it aside.
(For pit stains, put a layer of baking soda on the stain, set aside out of the water, and spray with the vinegar and water mixture. Let it sit for at least five minutes before scrubbing the area with a sponge or brush.)

the rinsing:
This is a vital step in the laundry process; if clothes are not properly rinsed of the soap, it can degrade the material and make it stiff and uncomfortable. To ensure you get all of the soap out of your clothes, add about 1/4 cup of vinegar to the final rinse cycle.
When an item is clean and rinsed, twist it and wring it out as best as you can. You may even want to lay your clothes out on a towel, fold it, roll it up, and step on it. This method is great for getting out excess water and allows the clothes to dry much faster.

the drying:
If you can dry your clothes on a line outside, that is your best option. They dry best in the day but will also dry at night. If you do not have access to clothesline, you may want to buy a laundry rack. Keep this, if possible, in the bathtub or on top of a towel to catch the water that drips from your clothes.

What have I missed? What else do you hate cleaning? How much do you spend on cleaning products that are supposed to make your life easier? I hope these cheap tips will help you maintain a level of cleanliness that can keep your brain uncluttered and your wallet packed. For more helpful info, see my absolutely favorite website: www.realsimple.com.